The deadliest tornado to hit the US in almost 60 years ripped through Joplin, Missouri on Sunday, leading Governor Jay Nixon to declare a state of emergency as the city now deals with the storm’s devastation which has claimed at least 90 lives.
America’s latest extreme weather event lashed out across the nation’s Midwest on Sunday from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, focusing on the town of Joplin where it showed no mercy, destroying fire stations and medical facilities essential to dealing with such disasters.
Responding to reports on the ability of townspeople to respond to the tornado, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said noise associated with the massive storm created some problems, telling ABC News: “The problem with this storm obviously is the size of it, as well as the rain and hail and things around it which made it very difficult” for people to hear tornado warnings, especially for people located inside buildings.
“The bottom line is the storm was so loud you probably couldn’t even hear the sirens that well,” the governor added. The fatality count is expected to rise in ongoing search and rescue efforts.
The tornado’s deadly force destroyed two Joplin fire stations and blew out hundreds of windows in the St. John’s Regional Medical Center, forcing staff to first place patients in hospital hallways during the storm and in the parking lot shortly after the twister passed, the Wichita Eagle reports.
Those patients have since been relocated to other area hospitals, with the most critical being moved to Freeman West Hospital.
The twister spread debris across a large area, with reports of Joplin medical records and X-rays being deposited 60 miles away in Greene County, according to Larry Woods, assistant director of the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management.
According to the Wichita Eagle, Jeff Lehr, a Joplin Globe reporter survived the deadly twister, barely making his way to a basement closet. “There was a loud huffing noise, my windows started popping. I had to get downstairs, glass was flying. I opened a closet and pulled myself into it,” he told the AP.
“Then you could hear everything go. It tore the roof off my house, everybody’s house. I came outside and there was nothing left,” he added.
Describing the scene of shock and chaos, Lehr continued: “There were people wandering the streets, all mud covered. I'm talking to them, asking if they knew where their family is. Some of them didn't know, and weren't sure where they were. All the street markers were gone.”
According to the Christian Science Monitor (CSM), the rash of tornado outbreaks this spring is being caused by an unusual jet stream pattern, allowing cold fronts reaching into the Midwest and South to create powerful storm systems. In April alone, a record-setting 600 tornadoes raced across the US.
CSM reports researchers have had to go back to 1974 and then back to the 1930s to find a pattern of storms with similar impact and magnitude.
Search and rescue efforts are continuing in the aftermath of the almost mile-wide twister in Joplin. “Rescue efforts are being effective,” said Lynn Onstott, the city’s public information director, the Globe reports. “We are finding people and helping them as we find them.”
The Empire District Electric Co, energy provider for the Joplin area, said Monday there were 20,000 people still without power. Missouri American Water has issued a boil advisory as concerns over safe drinking water arose. The ongoing crisis could lead to temporary food and water shortages.
“Anytime you have this kind of situation, those are going to be difficulties the city could face. But at this time, our first priority remains search and rescue,” Onstott said, according to the Globe.
More than 1,150 people were injured by the twister and the number is likely to rise as new medical reports continue coming in.